Man As Body, Soul, And Spirit (End)
Spirit and Soul Applied to God, Man, and Animals.
“God is a Spirit” in John 4:24. Man is a spirit in Ecclesiastes 12:7: “the spirit shall return unto God.” Now, in another context, spirit can also refer to the life of an animal, not because his spirit will never die but because of the application of the basic meaning “invisible”–we cannot see the life of the animal. For instance, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:21, “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” Both man and animal may thus be said to have a spirit, but it is not the same kind of spirit–only the spirit of man is made in the image of God and goes upward at death in returning to God, not downward to the earth like the animal which no longer exists.
The so-called Jehovah’s Witnesses try to use such passages as Ecclesiastes 3:21 to teach the false doctrine that the spirits of men and of animals are exactly the same–therefore, when man dies his spirit does not survive to live anymore, but he is only like the dead animal. They make the same false claim regarding the word soul because the Bible applies the Hebrew term to both man and beast. The Jehovah’s Witnesses do not understand how to study a word according to its context.
The Hebrew word translated “soul” is “nephesh.” This term is translated as “living creature” in reference to animals in Genesis 1:24 (God created “the living creature”), Genesis 2:19 (Adam named “every living creature”), and Leviticus 11:46 (“every living creature” was distinguished as clean or unclean). Yet, in other passages such as Leviticus 4:2 the Bible speaks of man as “a soul” meaning a person or a living creature who commits sin. Therefore, it is clear “nephesh” or “soul” in that verse refers to man and not to animals.
Because God Himself is a living being, the term soul (“nephesh”) is occasionally used in reference to God. Looking forward to the time when He would send His Son as His servant, God said, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles" (Isa. 42:1). In this prophecy of the coming of Christ, God the Father calls him "mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth." In Jeremiah 6:8 God said, "Be thou instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee; lest I make thee desolate, a land not inhabited." If the Jews refused to repent, God warned "my soul" will depart from them, in which case they will have no protection from God but will be destroyed by Babylon. God speaks as a living soul in these passages.
Here is the bottom line regarding the terms soul and spirit. Soul and spirit are synonyms which may refer to animals in some passages, to man in some passages, and even to God in some passages. When the two words apply to animals, this is because animals have life and that life is invisible to the eyes. Thus, “life” (“soul”) and also the invisible part (“spirit”) may apply to animals. Now, we understand well that this kind of soul or spirit is not made in God’s image. Only the soul or spirit of man is made in God’s image as is clear in Genesis chapter 1, especially verses 26-27. Since man has “life” he is a soul. Since our life is “invisible” we are spirits. And, this life (soul) or invisible nature (spirit) is made in God’s image – thus the soul or spirit of man will never die.
The meaning of soul and spirit must be determined in part by the basic meaning of each term and in part by the context in which the term is used.
Conclusion: Are You Ready?
Does the nature of man include body, soul, and spirit? Yes, with some slight distinction between soul simply as life and spirit simply as the invisible nature in God’s image. Are soul and spirit often synonyms? Yes, because man is uniquely created in God’s image as a living creature which like God Himself is invisible to our eyes. As a living creature, man is a soul. As a living creature whose inner nature is invisible, man is a spirit. In this regard soul and spirit are synonyms.
Why do we need this information? It helps us prepare for our future existence in a future world. Man as a soul or spirit lives in a body of flesh but can exist apart from the fleshly body at death. While the body waits in the grave, the soul or spirit of man waits in the hades world for the great and final resurrection day. On that day, the body will be raised and changed never to die again, and it will be reunited with the soul or spirit for eternity. On that day, we will enter our final home in heaven with God or in hell with Satan. A beautiful song entitled “There’s A Great Day Coming” challenges each one of us to prepare for that last great day:
There’s a great day coming, a great day coming;
There’s a great day coming by and by,
When the saints and the sinners shall be parted right and left,
Are you ready for that day to come?